Colorado's great experiment in the legalization of recreational cannabis has encouraged other states to follow suit. With Washington, Oklahoma and other states proposing plans to legalize recreational cannabis, it appears that this is the start of a legislative trend. With recreational users purposefully sharing the drugs with their pets and the drug's increased presence resulting in accidental ingestion, it’s important that we understand the way that marijuana affects our pets.
According to the Animal Poison Control Center division ASPCA, there has been a 30% increase in the number of calls reporting marijuana poisoning in pets since 2009 with as many as 320 calls this past year. Because Colorado’s legislation was passed late last year, it’s safe to assume that as states continue to be more lenient regarding the substance, that number will only rise in 2014.
Symptoms of Marijuana Use in Companion Animals
It is possible for pets to get "high" from ingesting marijuana; however, the drug impacts them in a different way than it affects humans. This means that even if marijuana is safe for humans, it might still be dangerous to animals. Though it is unlikely to prove fatal to pets, it can cause unneeded stress. Furthermore, different ways of ingesting the drug pose additional problems.
Currently, there are two known cases of dogs that have passed away from the overconsumption of marijuana-infused butter. Though the fatalities may have been caused by other ingredients or the processes used to make the product, the butter itself is a common product in marijuana dispensaries. This indicates that there is a danger in the mechanisms of ingestion of the drug that might warrant further precautions.
Pets that have ingested cannabis often experience lethargy, incontinence, breathing problems, irregular heart palpitations and a decrease in blood pressure. Though these normally manifest in a state of tranquility, they can cause distress in about 25% of affected animals. The effect of the drug is largely determined by the size and age of the animal ingesting it. Smaller dogs face a greater risk of overconsumption and negative side effects.
These effects are similar to the effects felt by humans. For humans, the drug has been legal for medicinal use in California and other states for years. There is then the possibility that it can effectively help pets in similar ways that it’s helped humans. In fact, one veterinarian had, as of 2013, been using the drug to help pets for years.
Medicinal Uses of Marijuana May Extend to Pets
The late veterinarian Doug Kramer "stirred the pot" in the veterinary community by producing a marijuana-based medical tincture aimed at alleviating pain in elderly or terminally ill pets. The tincture, called Canine Companion, came with a prescribed dosage that varied the amount dispensed based on the weight of the patient.
Before Kramer’s death in 2013, he began to experiment with his tincture in an effort to stave off euthanasia in pets that were seriously ill. Kramer agrees with the American Veterinary Medical Association’s assessment that more research is needed regarding the therapeutic use cannabis for pets; however, he disagrees on what seems to be a more vital point.
The AVMA has stated that these studies should occur before the therapy is practiced. This sentiment is supported by the majority of the veterinary community, including Dr, Robin Downing. Downing defended the AVMA’s decision, stating that our minimal knowledge of the therapy creates an unnecessary risk in a world with well-established methods of controlling pain.
Whether or not marijuana can be beneficial to your pet, it’s a long ways away from being declared safe for medicinal use. So rather than endanger your furry friends, make sure they stay safe by keeping any cannabis out of reach.